Saturday, January 09, 2010

Visiting Dartmouth for a Research Symposium

I spent the day at Dartmouth, as I was asked to be "keynote speaker" for their Computer Science Annual Research Symposium. Essentially, it's their own mini-conference for a day, with a mix of faculty and graduate student talks as well as posters, both giving graduate students a chance to present and letting everyone get a better idea of what everyone is working on. They're giving best student talk and best poster awards to motivate students.

They've done a very nice job in organizing it - they seem to have corralled most students and faculty into coming, and they have brought in huge quantities of food (a known motivator for student attendance). [Note to self: Dartmouth CS apparently gets its breakfast muffins from "Lou's". Those things are amazingly good.] The presentations are going well and I'm sure it's a useful experience for students. So I'm trying to learn from this how we might do something similar at Harvard.

We used to have something like this at Harvard -- we had an "Industrial Partners" day where we'd try to bring people from labs/companies in and do posters and presentations (including some by graduate students) in a similar fashion. At some point, it fell below critical mass, but we're perennially thinking of how to bring something like it back. You do have to get people to commit to it, and to find time for it -- notice Dartmouth has chosen to hold it on a Saturday, and at a time where the campus is otherwise pretty dead. Maybe that's the approach that would work for us. I've found it's hard to schedule anything on a regular M-F time slot with a group of faculty, even for a hour, never mind a whole day.

Another issue with scheduling a research symposium is that we, already, suffer from talk overload. We have our own colloquium; the various groups (theory, AI, systems) run their own seminars or lunch-talks; there's plenty of other talks around Harvard run by various departments or organizations; and there's a seemingly endless number of talks nearby (at MIT, Microsoft NE, and other places). The problem about having so many talks is you start to lose interest in organizing more talks, and arguably the graduate students benefit at least as much by presenting in their own group seminars. But visiting Dartmouth today has given me some further evidence that the good that can come out of a symposium day like this might make it worthwhile. Perhaps the key is to let the graduate students plan and run the day, so that they own it, and feel responsible for making it a success.

How many of you have a similar research symposium day, how does it work, and what do you think of it?


Anonymous said...

Chris Lesniewski-Laas said...

MIT has a yearly CSAIL student workshop, which was born in 2001 as the Student Oxygen Workshop. It's incredibly valuable for grad students to catch up with each other and learn what's going on in the lab outside of their immediate group. It's always on a weekend, but there are usually very few faculty (say, 1-3) attending. Funding has been a challenge since the Oxygen grant ran out, but we've found the money in the student committee budget and have had (much-appreciated) sponsorship from ITA.